Book Review

Red Chicago 1928-35

By Ron Grossman –Tribune Reporter

If Chicago wins the 2016 Olympics, it wont be the first time Chicago has hosted athletes joined together under the banner of world peace – although an earlier game was sanctioned not by the International Olympic Committee, but by the Third Communist International.

That’s just one of the many tidbits of Chicago’s history rescued from obscurity by Randi Storch, author of “Red Chicago: American Communism and its Grassroots 1928-1935.” Her book very engagingly recounts the sunset years of Chicago’s reign as the radical capital of America. From 1887, when the Chicago workers held the parade that would become the model for May Day Celebrations, to the 1932 International Workers’ Athletic Meet, the city was the lodestone for those who felt the nation’s economic ills required drastic political surgery.

While this May Day Heritage is still honored all over the world, how many present day Chicagoans would guess that May Day, the international workers’ holiday, was first celebrated here? Even the most dedicated devotees of sports trivia would probably scratch their heads at the news that in 1932, American leftists staged at Staff Field on the University of Chicago’s Campus a counter event to the official Olympics held in Los Angeles, USA.

It’s not just the passage of time that erased this historical event from the people in Chicago or the USA itself. The McCarthyite Witch Hunts of the 1950’s quickened this process. Communism became identified and vilified with the Soviet Union and Stalin, and even leftists got taken in by the provocative Rosenberg spy trials. But Professor Storch of the State University of New York at Cortland, argued and argues that the false evidence presented by the powers of the USA only support a very simplistic view of the early years in Chicago. She studied official records in Moscow and concluded:

“Chicago’s records do not reveal any espionage activities or orders from Moscow – they record the struggles by the Communists in day to day struggles, facing police repressions, the mobilizing of mass organizations, and raising the political understanding of the workers.”

Many Black Americans were in the progressive movements. In the 1920-30s liberals no less than other white Americans had virtually a physical aversion to Black Americans. But the Communist Party declared war on Jim Crow as well as against capitalism.

For many Black Chicagoans the party and the communist sponsored organizations offered their first chance to associate with the whites. During the terrible Depression Years, Chicago Communists organized eviction-rent strikes and moved may Black evicted families back into their apartments almost as quickly as the Sheriff’s deputies had their belongings on the street.

These experiences stayed with most Black Americans of that period. Many Blacks believed at that time that any white person that talked to a Black person was a Communist.”

Close this page to return.